Category: Updates

We Unconferenced, Now What?

On February 3, 2017, faculty and staff from 14 different colleges and over 25 divisions or academic units gathered for the first, annual University of Alabama Online Learning Innovation Summit.  Several participants remarked that this was the first time they had come together at UA to discuss online learning with such a diversity of disciplines and perspectives.

After a plenary session around online teaching, with a look at the projects of this year’s Innovation Scholars and Mentors, we broke into small group discussions around fostering academic community, communicating effectively with students, creating useful videos, using ThingLink, and user-generated media.

In the keynote by John Seely Brown, we were invited to consider for 21st-century learners the role of play and imagination, the importance of tinkering to stimulate lifelong learning, blended epistemologies in which learners create both content and context, and participatory knowledge strategies.

We heard from some of you after OLIS that you felt more encouraged to offer students a framework within which they can “tinker” or “play” to find more depth of knowledge, and that you were inspired to look for ways to allow students to participate more deeply in class activities.  One participant remarked, “I already focus on imagination and play in my courses, but I will do so even more and will guide students to reflect on how flexible thinking will help their future success.”

We’re providing you the OLIS Survey Results so you can learn how the unconference was experienced and what new ideas have emerged.  For an “in the moment” read, take a look at #olis2017 live tweeting, as well as the photo stream.

We look forward to exploring with you the potential outcomes (teaching ideas? tools? initiatives?) of OLIS and hope you will not only join us next year, but bring even more of your colleagues!  In the meantime, we would love to hear from you about how you are moving forward with exploration and implementation of new tools and ideas in your teaching.


Innovation at the Starting Gate

I’ve sometimes wondered how I would respond if asked to name one innovation I would bring to a course I teach.  What would it be, and what would it accomplish? Would it solve a problem, serve as an experiment, increase student engagement? What would motivate me to pursue my innovation?  How would my students respond to it?

These are some of the questions I have been asking my colleagues and now have a chance to extend to all faculty at The University of Alabama.  The reason is because I am now leading an Innovation Team effort. For me, it’s an extraordinary opportunity to work with faculty from across UA who want to make their online courses more engaging, more student-centered, more technologically current, more fresh and inspiring.

Dean Edelbrock has charged our newly-formed Innovation Team with bringing innovation to online degree programs at every level—from promotion of specific courses and the degree programs to which they pertain, to better engagement of students within those courses and programs, to fostering broad academic communities that endure outside the online classroom, and to improving retention and engaging alumni.

Who we are

So let me start by telling you who I am and what I hope to share with you in this blog and through our Innovation Team efforts as we work to support your hopes and needs for innovation work in online education.  I come to the team with an academic background in the humanities (music history and medieval studies), and with experience teaching and cultivating academic communities both online and in the classroom.  My Ph.D. work at New York University was cross-disciplinary and data-driven, and has contributed to my strong interest both in technologies for teaching and in metadata applications for research. My Innovation Team colleague Andrew Richardson brings to the table an academic background in higher education administration and communication, as well as experience in computer programming, marketing, media production, and many other technical skills. Together, we are excited by the daily opportunity to brainstorm ideas and develop implementations for online teaching and learning.

Starting in the Sandbox

I want to share with you some of the things we are working on – so that you have an idea of the kinds of materials we hope to make available for experimentation, along with our time and support.  At the moment, Andrew and I are focusing on concepts and materials we believe could be applied broadly to various subject areas and student groups.  We recently came across a set of geo-mapping tools in Leaflet and Mapbox, and found these to have interesting capabilities not only as presentation items or learning objects, but also as components of interactive assignments or group projects.  We are preparing to pilot community-building tools like Slack and GroupMe because we see how these could enable both individual faculty and entire degree programs to nurture virtual academic communities that persist beyond the online classroom. These and other tools will be featured in the Innovation Sandbox, an ever-growing repository that we hope will both inspire you and invite further conversation.

Hearing from You

Most importantly, we want to hear from you! We think of ourselves as your Innovation Team, which is to say we look forward to working with any and all who would like to explore with us the potentials of technology in the online classroom.

Please do not hesitate to ask questions and share your ideas here on our blog.  We would also be pleased to visit by phone, email or meet with you in person. Here’s to the grand adventure!